Subsea engineering is one of the UK’s main global strengths. According to research by the Institute of Marine Engineering, Scien…, the nation generates a staggering £8.9bn of the £20bn global subsea engineering spend. There is no doubt then that the UK’s subsea engineers are some of the best and most in-demand workers in the world. They are also becoming some of the rarest.
In order to keep up with an increasingly competitive market, IMarEST suggests that the UK will require an additional 10,000 skilled workers. And with engineering apprenticeships rising by 40 per cent in recent years, this starkly identified STEM gap should soon be plugged.
Except, the gap appears to be worsening. Particularly for maritime engineers, there is a distinct lack of graduates emerging in the field. On top of this, the UK Navel Engineering, Science and Technology Forum (UK NEST) revealed that the maritime sector is struggling with a huge number of retirees, along with a diminishing mid-career pool.
With all the recent educational drive to push STEM into the forefront of student attention, why is it that the STEM gap does not appear to be healing? More importantly, what can be done to plug the gap in subsea engineering?
Mid-career talent pool is dwindling
Often, when the topic of the STEM gap is brought up, attentions turn to education. What can be done to entice more students to pursue a career in engineering? How can we bring fresh blood into the sector? But this hyper-focus on new recruits may well have had an unintended – and unpleasant – side effect.
Stats from IMarEST paint a startling picture, with 90% of engineering businesses saying they are experiencing difficulty in recruitment. But this doesn’t just cover new engineers coming out of university with their fresh, STEM-campaigned degree in hand. For many engineering businesses, the problem lies in being able to recruit skilled, mid-career talent, such as those within the 35–45 age bracket.
Not only are engineering businesses finding it hard to recruit such engineers, for the maritime sector in particular, they are struggling to hold on to their current employees. There are many examples of subsea and maritime engineers leaving that side of the sector in pursuit of more lucrative roles in oil and gas engineering. After all, one of the perks of being trained in engineering is that the basic rules remain the same regardless of which area of engineering an employee works in. This makes for a highly transferable – and highly unstable – employee pool.
UK engineering is still missing out on 52% of the workforce
Much like with education, it is difficult to discuss the STEM gap without mentioning the gender gap. Sadly, the UK is still the lowest in Europe in terms of its female engineering population – less than 10 per cent of UK engineers are female, compared to countries such as Bulgaria, where nearly 30% of its engineers are women.
We’ve heard countless times how female students tend to perform the best in STEM subjects, and some reports suggest there isn’t much difference between male and female take up and success in GCSE STEM subjects. Yet the nation is still failing to draw upon this available talent.
There is no doubt women make some of the best engineers, and certainly one of the more beneficial widespread beliefs about engineering is the enticing salary. In fact, the gender pay gap in engineering is much smaller than the UK average, standing at just 10.8 per cent and with work ongoing to close that gap entirely.
The incentives are there. The funds have been poured in to boost STEM subject uptake, to demolish gender stereotypes within engineering, and we even have a national day for engineering in the UK now.
So, why aren’t engineers flooding through the gates? And, more worryingly for maritime engineering, why are so many engineers under the belief that the grass is greener in oil and gas engineering..